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Is Your 'Ice Cream' Made From Milk Or Vegetable Oil?

13/07/2017 7:39 PM IST | Updated 13/07/2017 7:39 PM IST
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Hailing from Mumbai, I ate a ton of ice cream every summer. It was a tasty way to beat the heat. After I started foodnetindia, however, I realised that a lot of what I ate back then might not have been ice cream, but rather, frozen dessert. Not a big deal, right? Wrong! Because frozen desserts may contain trans fats!

The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) defines an ice cream, kulfi or softy ice-cream as a concoction obtained by freezing a mix of milk and/or other products derived from milk, with or without the addition of sweetening agents, fruits, fruit products, and eggs, among other things. It defines frozen dessert as a product obtained by freezing a pasteurized mix prepared with milk fat and/or vegetable oils. It may also contain fat, milk protein, vegetable protein and sweetening agents.

The use of edible vegetable oil is permitted in frozen desserts, but not in ice cream.

The key difference between the two is the fact that the use of edible vegetable oil is permitted in frozen desserts, but not in ice cream. It is therefore entirely possible to conclude that according to the FSSAI definition, ice cream is a sub-set of frozen dessert and is subject to more stringent standards. It is also possible that the 'and/or' in the definition of frozen desserts is a typographical error. However, for the purposes of this article, the assumption is that frozen dessert contains vegetable oil or fats of vegetable origin (which is generally the case), and I consider that as an issue of concern for consumers because some vegetable fats are sources of toxic trans-fats.

The consumption of trans-fats is one of the biggest safety issues in the packaged food industry. Manufacturers label trans fats in their products as 'edible vegetable fat, 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,' 'vegetable shortening,' 'vanaspati ghee,' and 'margarine'. The consumption of trans-fats is associated with several lifestyle diseases, and I've written about the trans-fats problem in an earlier article as well.

Manufacturers label trans fats in their products as 'edible vegetable fat,' 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,' 'vegetable shortening,' 'vanaspati ghee,' and 'margarine'.

Why do they use vegetable oil instead of dairy fat? When asked by NDTV, Mr. Sapan Sharma, GM, Hindustan Unilever Limited, said, "Vegetable fat is more advantageous than dairy fat. Vegetable fats are not a direct cholesterol source. Palm oil or derivatives like mid fractions are healthier. Also, vegetable fat is amenable to making ice cream. Palm oil is very versatile, and helps give frozen dessert its smooth and creamy texture at -15 degrees." However, he did add that HUL does not use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Kwality Walls, which is an HUL brand, has even published an article in which it explains why vegetable oil is used, and clarifies that their products don't have hydrogenated fat. They even got an order from the Bombay High Court against Amul, restraining Amul from telecasting an advertisement depicting the difference between ice-cream and frozen desserts, and said that it actually amounted to slander of goods. The contention was that the advertisement was trying to mislead consumers by stating that frozen desserts sold in India contained Vanaspati.

HUL even got an order from the Bombay High Court against Amul, restraining Amul from telecasting an advertisement depicting the difference between ice-cream and frozen desserts.

While I appreciate the fact the HUL and Kwality Walls have taken the trouble to clarify that their products don't contain trans-fats, there may be other frozen dessert manufacturers whose products may actually contain trans-fat. So, considering that ice-cream is one of the most popular packaged food items in this country, I think that the food labelling laws need to be changed to ensure that consumers can easily identify whether a product is an ice-cream or a frozen dessert, and if they still choose to buy a frozen dessert (I wouldn't), then the law should ensure that the vegetable oil used is specified.

The law may or may not change, and even if it does, it will take time. So if you want to be absolutely certain that your sweet treat is safe, take the trouble to read the packaging. Trust me, it is worth it.

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